Winter may still be several months away, but earlier this week government forecasters released their national outlook for the upcoming winter. So what can you expect here in Chicago? Will it be sandals and swimsuits like last year or a return to the salt and snow shovels of past years?
Winter in Chicago is always packed with excitement and uncertainty. Prior to last winter, Chicago smashed records with four consecutive winters having more than 50" of snow. And last winter was supposed to be #5 and the worst one of all--it was even named Snowmageddon-- but instead, we had a very mild winter; surprising everyone including Jim Allsopp of the National Weather Service.
"I grew up here and have been forecasting here for a long time, I've never seen anything as unusual as the weather we had last March," Allsopp says. "One of the warmest winters on record, one of the least snowy winters on record, so yeah certainly that was not expected, but I think alot of people did enjoy it."
The question is, can we do it again?
"Well anything's possible, but on average March tends to be one of our snow - so I certainly wouldn't expect that kind of weather again," says Allsopp.
The main reason is there is no clear El Nino or La Nina weather patterns, which have a direct influence on our weather here. This will be the first near neutral winter since 2006.
"We looked back at these neutral events in the past in the Chicago area and many more of them have been close to what we call climatologically normal meaning not really far above or far below what's normal around here in terms of temperatures and snowfall," says NWS Meteorologist Ricky Castro.
To refresh your memory, our normal winter averages close to 27 degrees with 37" of snow.
"The other thing we're going to be looking for that actually has an impact on our weather is if the higher latitudes to our north, the source region of our cold air mass to build a good snow pack whereas last year there was very little snow up there," Castro explains.
There are also two winter wildcards: the Artic Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation. These are fancy terms for the strengthening or weakening of key areas of high and low pressure in the Arctic Circle and Atlantic Ocean which are the keepers of cold air and the transport system for winter storms. Last winter was rare because both Oscillations were positive keeping snow and cold away. This year, we are expecting both to change more frequently, although we can't predict these changes more than two weeks in advance.
The bottom line is, the forecast will be adjusted throughout the winter and barring any unusual patterns our upcoming winter will have normal to slightly above normal temperatures and slightly drier conditions with near normal snowfall.
As for a white Christmas, the NWS promises that "we'll have a white Christmas somewhere."